Wednesday, June 26, 2002
Miriam A. Krinsky, Los Angeles County Bar Association President
The Organization’s First President From the Public Sector Has History of Focusing on Community Commitment
By NAZANIN AGANGE, Staff Writer
Miriam A. Krinsky, who will be installed tonight as the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s newest president, might not have become a lawyer—if her father had had his way.
LACBA’s seventh woman president and its first from the public sector says her father had always hoped she’d become a doctor. But in eighth grade Krinsky read “Clarence Darrow for the Defense” by Irving Stone, a book about the attorney of Scopes “monkey trial” fame, and she decided on a different career.
“I was mesmerized, I couldn’t put it down,” Krinsky says of the book. “I was so moved by what a lawyer can do to bring about social change. The ability of a lawyer to represent the underdog and to really change society through laws, through equal representation. By the time I finished that book, I knew I wasn’t going to be a doctor.”
She even visited a law firm, specifically requesting to meet a female lawyer. Seeing a woman as a lawyer made the aspiration tangible, Krinsky says.
Even so, when she was an undergraduate at UCLA, she admits taking “some pre-med courses to convince my father it was not the right course for me.”
Eventually, Krinsky majored in economics and went on to UCLA law school. She calls becoming a lawyer her desire, dream and aim in life.
But Krinsky has a personal philosophy that shows becoming a lawyer was not her only goal.
The lessons she gleaned from her parents’ struggle during and after World War II made Krinsky, 42, grateful. From that gratitude grew a belief in “making sure you make your life relevant.”
“When one’s parents have gone through particularly trying times,” Krinsky says, “you do have a different kind of lens that you look at life through and one that tends to, more every day and every year, question ‘What have I done to make a difference? What have I done to justify the opportunities and privileges that I have that my parents fought for?’”
Her father, Samuel Aroni, a native Romanian, evaded the Holocaust by hiding out with his brother and survived the war. He reunited with the rest of his family, who had all made their way to Israel, after the war. Aroni went to Australia, so he’d be able to go to college, despite never having graduated from high school.
Krinsky’s mother, Malca, who was born in Israel, was sent to Australia after the war to teach at a girls’ school. Despite living just a few doors away from each other in Israel, her parents first met in Australia, where they married and Miriam and her older sister, Ruth, were born.
Her father taught architecture at the University of Melbourne until 1963. He took a sabbatical and taught at UC Berkeley and the family moved to Northern California. Later, they moved to Riverside and Woodland Hills, when Aroni became a professor in UCLA’s architecture department.
Samuel Aroni always conveyed how fortunate he felt for his life, Krinsky says. She credits her father’s sentiment with giving her a “real appreciation for what one has and a real dire need to do your best to make the most of it.”
And with that mentality she took up ... well, everything.
Krinsky embarked on the “leadership ladder” of the County Bar—a series of vice presidencies—four years ago, but her involvement in bar activities dates back to her days at the now-defunct Los Angeles firm Hufstedler, Miller, Carlson & Beardsley. The firm was known for its high-caliber attorneys—many of whom have since become respected judges and county bar leaders.
Krinsky notes that successful law students tend to be funneled toward a fast-paced law career at a private firm. Krinsky says she was looking for something more.
She considered working in the public sector, but says she wanted to pay back her student loans sooner. The late U.S. District Judge William Gray of the Central District of California, for whom she did an externship during law school, steered her toward Hufstedler, she says.
Precedent of Commitment
Krinsky joined Hufstedler after completing her law degree at UCLA in 1984 and says she encountered a precedent of commitment to the County Bar and to the community among people who had broken through barriers to achieve success.
Hufstedler was “as good as a firm can get in terms of the image of what a private firm could be, should be about,” Krinsky says.
The firm viewed community involvement as being as high a priority as the financial bottom line, Krinsky recalls. She speculates that was one of the reasons the firm couldn’t last today, where making money is a priority.
Among her influential colleagues were Patricia Phillips, who was the first female president of LACBA and currently heads LACBA’s Anniversary Committee planning the celebration of the group’s 125th year; the late Sam Williams, the first African American president of LACBA as well as of the State Bar; Laurie Zelon, who went on to be LACBA president and a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who is now serving as a liaison between the County Bar and Superior Court judges; and Shirley Hufstedler, the first woman to serve on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, in the Carter administration, the first-ever U.S. secretary of education.
Krinsky says their influence encouraged her to join the National Center for Immigration Rights board as well as the executive committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association Barristers, a branch of the County Bar for new attorneys.
Since then she’s served on various bar committees, including the LACBA Board of Trustees, the Federal Bar Appellate Courts Committee and the American Bar Association’s Appellate Practice Committee.
“Over time, I gained an appreciation for what the organization could accomplish and what it meant to lawyers,” Krinsky says of LACBA—the largest volunteer bar in the country.
As president-elect of the County Bar, Krinsky helped establish the State Criminal Justice System Task Force, to address weaknesses in the criminal justice system, specifically in light of the Rampart scandal. The task force’s expected evaluation is part of “an action-packed year ahead,” she says.
Outgoing LACBA President Roland Coleman commends the criminal task force for researching various segments of the justice system and gives Krinsky “90 percent” of the credit.
“Whenever [Krinsky] takes on something, she’s always a follow-through, get-it-done person,” Coleman says. “She’s going to hit the ground running. She is prepared ahead of time, so she gets from conception to inception very quickly.”
Krinsky has already started many programs for her presidential year, saying that she got “some things done early on, so they can run their course in the year ahead.”
Krinsky plans to focus on the 125-year history of the County Bar with “Breakfast with Giants” to bring young lawyers in contact with “true heroes of the legal community,” which she hopes will give young lawyers the opportunity to relate to and appreciate the legal community around them and the accomplishments of those who came before them.
The rededication of the Criminal Courts Building as the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in February, which Krinsky helped coordinate, also reflects Krinsky’s focus on bar history and, specifically, her dedication to “instilling pride in women in the legal community.”
Foltz became the first woman admitted to practice in California in 1878, and the first female deputy district attorney in Los Angeles by 1910. She also initiated the concept of creating a public defender’s office and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1930.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ranee A. Katzenstein notes that Krinsky brought her eldest daughter, Sarah, to the rededication so she could “experience a successful woman,” meaning Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was the keynote speaker at the dedication.
Coleman says the event shows Krinsky’s commitment to reaching out to diverse “segments [of the community] and making sure [the County Bar] reflects the diversity around us.”
Krinsky has also planned and started working on a series of programs centered around youths. “Bridges to the Future,” a mentorship program for teenagers “aging out” of the foster care system, will begin its recruitment as early as tonight. Another program, to commemorate the Sept. 11 attacks by engaging high school students, lawyers, judges and civic leaders in conversation about American liberties and values, can already boast Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy as a participant.
Her commitment to young people is as apparent in her County Bar commitments as it is in her newest job.
Last month, Krinsky became the executive director of the court-funded Dependency Court Legal Services, which represents abused and neglected county foster children in dependency court and other proceedings.
In 1998, Krinsky founded the County Bar’s Juvenile Courts Task Force to assess Proposition 21, a proposed initiative that gave prosecutors the power to decide to try young adults in adult or juvenile courts for violent or gang related crimes. It was approved by voters in 2000, despite what the task force said were flaws in its approach.
The Los Angeles Superior Court’s then-presiding juvenile court judge, Terry Friedman, and the dependency courts presiding judge, Michael Nash—who now holds Friedman’s former position—offered her the DCLS position while serving with her on the task force. She declined, to concentrate on her upcoming presidency. Since then, the position was filled by “terrific people,” Krinsky says, but, for one reason or another, the position did not work out for them.
As her presidency drew closer “and the timing grew that much worse,” she jokes, Krinsky changed her mind and sought the post.
Influenced by a depressing pattern she observed as a prosecutor, where increasingly younger people were being taken into federal custody, “often for the rest of their lives because of the failures of a foster system to address the smaller problems,” Krinsky felt the “restlessness” to make a difference.
“I became curious whether there had been moments in those lives where a difference could have been made and those moments weren’t seized,” Krinsky says. “When this difficult year is over with, [I know] I’ll be coming back to a day job that makes me feel like I’m continuing to make a contribution.”
As she heads the 165-person organization, Krinsky wants to see that DCLS is not just addressing children’s legal needs, but foster children as a whole, including having staff specialize in addressing educational, mental health, and housing and placement needs, as well as giving each child his or her own lawyer.
Krinsky also sees the need to make system-wide reforms to coordinate with other child advocacy organizations, like the Department of Children and Family Services.
While debate over a child’s best interest is healthy for a court to make a better determination, given Los Angeles County’s size and limited resources for children’s services, making sure all the systems are pointing in the same direction is an inherent obstacle, Krinsky says. She wants to see the foster system better able to place children in the best environment, track their needs and address them, she says. DCLS currently has a yearly budget of just over $14 million.
Krinsky is committed to giving everyone the chance to fulfill his or her potential, Morrison & Foerster attorney and long-time family friend Mike Feuer says. Feuer, who served as a Los Angeles city councilman from 1995 to 2001, when he ran unsuccessfully for city attorney against Rocky Delgadillo, met Krinsky when they both first became lawyers at Hufstedler.
“She’s very committed to equal access to justice, to the highest degree of fairness, and she has a rooted sense of social conscience,” Feuer adds.
Krinsky says her externship with Gray, the federal judge, showed her that a person can be successful and not forget “the human element of what law is about and reaffirmed, in my mind, what the practice of law needs to be about.” She says that Gray was always looking for ways the law could better a person’s life, rather than strictly punish mistakes.
When Krinsky expressed interest in becoming a federal prosecutor, Gray took her to see then-U.S. Attorney Robert Bonner and former Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Drooyan.
“I don’t remember any other judge doing that,” Drooyan, a partner at Munger Tolles & Olson, says.
Krinsky established herself as a tough prosecutor when she joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles in 1987. She continued that reputation on the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Drug Enforcement Task Force in Maryland, bringing cases against members of the Jamaican Posse, a notorious East Coast gang.
“When she believes in something, she tenaciously pursues it,” Drooyan says. “She was always committed to the mission of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to see that justice is done.”
In 1990, she and her husband returned to Los Angeles, where Sarah was born. Krinsky became the deputy chief, then chief, of the General Crimes Section at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.
When the general crimes chief position opened up, then-U.S. Attorney Lourdes Baird—now a U.S. district judge—called Krinsky, who was home on maternity leave, to see if she would be interested in the position.
“Of course, I said ‘yes’ right away,’ Krinsky says. “[But Baird] refused to let me answer; she demanded I take a week ... and spend time with my family and really think it over.”
If it hadn’t been for Baird’s instructions, Krinsky says she may have always questioned whether she took the right course in accepting the post.
A little over a year later, she decided to move to an area which she says she knew very little about. She applied for and received a position as the top appellate lawyer in the office “with the idea to really build up, for the first time, an appellate section.”
The department, whose members Krinsky calls “by far the best appellate lawyers west of the Solicitor General’s Office,” grew from 1.5 to 12 lawyers during her tenure.
U.S. District Judge Nora Manella, a former U.S. attorney, calls Krinsky a “tough taskmaster” who was committed to taking “principled positions” before the Ninth Circuit and establishing the office’s credibility.
“She thought not to just take a position on what will result in more convictions, but what was the right thing to do,” Manella says. “Miriam set the bar very high and made sure people crossed it.”
The acting chief of criminal appeals at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Becky Walker, says one of the standards assistant U.S. attorneys had to meet was based on Krinsky’s “incomparable” oral advocacy skills. She reasons calmly and speaks with authority, but her effectiveness is in how prepared she is, Walker says.
Katzenstein recalls preparing Krinsky for United States v. Banuelos-Rodriguez, an en banc argument regarding discrepancies in plea bargains and sentencing among districts, which the government won. Krinsky showed how well-versed she was in the facts of the case and in the law by responding confidently to a “whole battalion of [her co-workers] doing a moot court, peppering her with questions,” Katzenstein says.
Krinsky was also a tough “moot court judge” to present to, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Cheng says. If one could get past Krinsky’s questions when preparing for oral arguments in moot court, which Krinsky made a regular event at the office, one could answer to any judge, he said.
In the appellate office, Krinsky had a reputation for being detail oriented.
Walker says that people in the office knew “whenever Miriam reviewed your brief you were going to get a heavy edit.”
Katzenstein jokes that if writing is rewriting, then Krinsky wrote all of her briefs. “[Krinsky] has very high standards when you work for her,” Katzenstein says. “That’s part of why your briefs get covered in ink when she reviews them.”
Rick Tuttle, former Los Angeles city controller and current executive director of the Dashu International Center for Students and Scholars at UCLA, remembers Krinsky as very principled even when she was an undergraduate. Krinsky played a major role in exposing a campaign financing scandal in student government, Tuttle recalls.
But that’s not the only reason he thought of Krinsky when he had to name a successor to journalist Edwin Guthman on the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.
“The main thing I thought of was she struck me as an overreaching person of terrific integrity, ability and stature,” Tuttle relates. “She’s someone who says what she believes and is willing to say what she believes, even if it’s not terribly popular.”
Ethics Commission Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham says Krinsky is also willing to listen to others.
“She understands the importance of being a sounding board,” Pelham says.
Krinsky says she’s tried to use her five-year term to make the commission, established by voter initiative in 1990, an active watchdog for citizens. Voters should know who is bankrolling campaigns and how candidates raise money for their campaign, Krinsky says, especially in the wake of the last citywide election in which there was four times as much independent spending on behalf of candidates as there had been in any previous election.
The commission is also working to sever the connection between decision-making and money, Krinsky adds.
“I believe as long as there are people out there who are willing to pay attention and feel that they have some sense of ownership over the system that they’re a part of, even that degree of attention alone, is going to make a difference and force the system to be better,” Krinsky, who was voted commission president by the other commissioners two years ago, says. “The efforts of the Ethics Commission, over time, have made a difference.”
The commission recently has approved a series of election reforms, including requiring disclosure for anything above $25,000 in independent spending on campaigns, that will go to the Los Angeles City Council for approval later this year. Commissioners and staff members have also taken an active role in auditing the fundraising habits of elected officials such as Councilman Nate Holden, who was found last week to have committed 31 violations.
To the Ethics Commission staff, too, Krinsky is known as a perfectionist.
Senior Information Analyst Barbara Freeman says Krinsky puts “just as much energy into something you think is routine as she does other matters; she takes nothing for granted.”
Pelham says Krinsky is guaranteed to come to any meeting and “have her homework done, have more questions [for the staff to research] and be prepared to move the agenda along.” She comments that Krinsky has so much energy “she ought to be running marathons.”
Krinsky explains that, although she is always trying to find a way to carve more hours out of a 24-hour day, her energy is simply a necessity. If it matters and it needs to be done, it gets done, she says.
Walker calls Krinsky a mentor, saying now that she’s temporarily doing Krinsky’s former job, she doesn’t know how Krinsky did it.
“She would leave at a reasonable hour to spend time with her kids, but always took a briefcase full of work home with her,” Walker says. “Unlike the rest of us, she actually did something with it.”
Krinsky confirms this habit, saying that when Sarah, 11, and Hannah, 8, go to bed she pulls out the work. She’s always wanted a family, she says, and couldn’t ask for better children or a more supportive husband.
“No one, including Miriam, would say they have the perfect balance” between their work and personal lives, but she does everything with “tenacity, intensity, focus and iron-willed determination,” her husband, Glen Krinsky, says.
Krinsky says that while her daughters are incredibly supportive of their parents’ busy schedules—Glen Krinsky is the lead attorney for City of Hope and recently won over $500 million in a civil trial against Genentech—they are articulate about their desire to spend time with their parents.
“Just enough to tell me that it’s still important for them that I’m there,” Krinsky says.
However, she jokes that she suspects she’s been replaced by the new family dog, Muttle.
Glen Krinsky describes his wife as “a strong, loving and close mother with an absolutely wonderful relationship with her daughters.”
“Outside of work—and you’re dealing with a small amount of Miriam’s time—she is first, second, and third a family person,” he says.
Krinsky does not escape her reputation as a perfectionist at home, “which means neither her husband nor her children have the luxury of an unmade bed,” her husband says.
But Glen Krinsky rebuts one part of his wife’s reputation:
“Contrary to the image of Miriam as the Energizer Bunny, she does know how to relax.”
She loves the theater and films, he says. She also loves travel. He describes her as a reluctant daredevil who has river-rafted in New Zealand, been parasailing, and loves horseback riding.
“And, largely through her husband, she’s learned to like the Dodgers and Lakers,” Glen Krinsky says.
Everyone in the family is a UCLA “sports nut,” Miriam Krinsky says, and UCLA basketball games are a family tradition.
“Miriam wants to succeed in every aspect of her life, and she does—with the exception of getting enough sleep,” Feuer says.
Even her father is not disappointed at her career choice, Miriam Krinsky says.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company